1 Peter – A Holy People in a Hostile World
1 Peter 1:3-12 CCD
Sermon preached at Christ Church Duesseldorf, 9th September 2018
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. – 1 Peter 1:3-12 NIV
Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who was imprisoned in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau. He became fascinated with the question of why some of his fellow prisoners who went through that terrible trial became apathetic and died, and why some remained strong and survived. He concluded that the key factor was hope. This is what he wrote: “Life in a concentration camp exposes your soul’s foundation. Only a few of the prisoners were able to keep their inner liberty and inner strength. Life only has meaning in any circumstances if we have a hope that neither suffering, circumstances, nor death itself can destroy.”
Hope is in short supply in our culture. Some respond to that with dissipation: by plunging into what Peter calls “wild, reckless living” (4:4), to dull the hunger for hope. Others simply despair, and give in to “quiet desperation”. The two go together: it’s no coincidence that a culture increasingly dedicated to self-fulfilment and immorality is also a culture in which there are soaring rates of mental illness, especially depression.
But in the middle of all this darkness, Christians should be should shine out as people of hope. As we’ve seen, the theme of 1 Peter is “a holy people in a hostile world”. But as well as being a holy people, we are also to be a hopeful people. In 3:15 Peter writes “always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you”. And as will become very clear next week, our holiness is not based on guilt, it is based on hope.
That’s why Peter begins his letter with this great hymn to hope. It’s one of the most marvellous passages in the New Testament; I often read it at funerals. It tells us three things about the hope we have: it is a living hope, a joyful hope, and a revealed hope.
- Our Hope is a Living Hope – v3-5
We have a living hope– v3b.
Now, what is a living hope? As opposed to a dead hope. Well, the first thing to say is that when Peter talks about “hope” he doesn’t mean a feeling of hope inside us, which might just be wishful thinking. He means something real and solid and concrete, out there, something to hope for, something to live for. And when he calls it a “living” hope, he means that it’s a hope that won’t disappoint us or let us down, a hope that won’t die on us. A living hope is a life-giving hope, a hope that isn’t passive, but has dramatic, far-reaching effects in someone’s life, a hope that drives back the darkness of despair. That’s why Peter writes “be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you”- clearly he thinks that others will be able to see and be impressed by the difference that hope makes to our lives.
Where does this hope come? Look at v3.
Hope comes from mercy, God’s great, immense mercy. So this hope isn’t something that we build ourselves, and take credit for. It certainly isn’t something that we produce in ourselves, by positive thinking or something like that. No, God doesn’t help those who help themselves, he is a God of great mercy, who helps the helpless and gives hope to the hopeless. So Peter writes that in mercy God gives us new birth. Or as Peter says in 1:23-24, we have been born again through the word of God. God speaks, and ploughs open our hearts, and plants a seed of new life in us, so we start to grow and flourish, like babies growing up.
Peter says in 1:3 that this new birth, this beginning of a new life, happens through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. That is, when someone hears the good news that the Lord Jesus Christ is risen and alive, and with joy she accepts and believes it, that faith joins her to Jesus, she is united and bound to him. So his death becomes her death, and his life becomes her life, and Jesus story becomes her story. So if someone believes and trusts in Jesus Christ, they can have the rock-solid hope, that one day she will be raised from the dead like him. In fact, life is already flowing from him to her, transforming her life, making her into a new person.
And, Peter says this new birth is into a living hope. That is, just as a baby is born from their mother into the world, Christians are born again into hope. It is the environment in which we live and the air which we breath- the hope of rising from the dead and living forever with Jesus Christ.
What is this hope? We’ve already given a partial answer, but look at v4.
Peter describes what we hope for as an “inheritance”- in v3 he says that we’ve been born into hope, in v4 that we’ve been born into an inheritance, so he’s obviously talking about the same thing. I don’t know if anyone here is expecting to receive an inheritance, or has received an inheritance, but I imagine that it makes a big difference when you think about the future, especially your retirement. You may not have much money now, but knowing that you will receive an inheritance makes the future much less worrying.
Well, Peter says that our hope is that we will receive an inheritance from God, through Jesus’ resurrection. An inheritance much better than any amount of money or land. Look at how he describes it in v4. First he says that it can’t perish, or be destroyed. Then that it can’t spoil or be defiled. Then that it can’t fade or wither. Savings and pensions can be wiped out. Land can lose its value. Sin and arguments between relatives can spoil an inheritance. All earthly, material things will fail and fade away and be forgotten. But not this inheritance that God has given us through Jesus’ resurrection. Then Peter says that God is keeping this inheritance safe in heaven for us. No one can steal it or take it away from us. It is completely secure.
That means of course that we don’t fully enjoy that inheritance now. Nowhere does God promise us a life of wealth and prosperity, our best life now. In fact, it’s the other way around: he promises us trials and troubles and loss and poverty in the present, because that’s what it was like for Jesus. We’ve been given the title deeds to our inheritance, and we’ve been given a first instalment of it, but we don’t have full possession of it yet. But we can go through loss and poverty, in the sure and certain knowledge that God has an absolutely secure inheritance, treasured up for us in his strong room, waiting for the day when we grow up and come of age and inherit it.
Who is this hope for? Look at v5.
Peter says that this inheritance comes to us through faith. Faith is trust and confidence in Jesus- it is the hand held out to receive and grasp the title deeds to our inheritance. So it is those, and only those, who put their faith in Christ, who have a right to this inheritance, this hope. Only those who believe in Christ can be sure that they will receive it. When Peter talks about faith, he doesn’t just mean believing once and saying a prayer. He means keeping on believing in Christ. Because, as he says, through that faith God’s power shields us, or guards us, or protects us- he uses a military term for a soldier standing guard. It would be no use knowing that we had this imperishable inheritance kept safe in heaven for us, if we thought that we might not get there safely to receive it. So Peter assures us that as we trust in Christ, God’s power will march alongside us, every step of our pilgrimage, as our bodyguard, keeping us safe from harm, until Christ returns, and we reach heaven, and receive our inheritance.
In other words, if we believe in Jesus, then we can have complete confidence, complete certainty, complete assurance that we will receive our inheritance of salvation. Nothing can spoil it or take away from us. Our hope is steadfast and certain.
How should we respond to this hope? With praise! v3a
Brad Pitt- two word you don’t often here in my sermons- the movie star, apparently comes from a Christian family. But in interviews he’s said that he gave up his Christian faith as a young man, because he couldn’t see why he should praise God. We need reasons to praise- and that’s what Peter gives us here. He doesn’t begin his letter with a command to do something. He begins with this great outburst of praise to God for what he has done. Because that’s where the Christian life begins- with what God has done, and with praising and thanking him for it. It’s also where a Christian response to pain and trial and suffering begins- with praising God. If you are having a really hard time, one of the best things to do is to praise God for your secure inheritance, for the glorious, indestructible hope he has given. And that will some times be hard, so here we are given reasons to praise him.
You see, if you really understand what God has done for us in Christ, you won’t have to ask “why should I praise him?” It will come naturally. That’s why praise requires doctrine- that’s what Peter is doing here, he is giving us doctrine to make us praise God when we are suffering. And that is why the content of what we sing in church matters so much. For instance, we can sing “Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah, Praise ye the Lord!” And sing it again, and again, and again- but we are never given any reason to praise him. But then we can sing “Praise my soul the king of heaven, to his feet your tribute bring. Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven- who like me his praise should sing? Praise him, praise him, praise him, praise him, praise the everlasting king”. You see what it’s doing? It’s giving you reasons to praise God, it’s giving you doctrine- because without doctrine, praise suffocates. That’s why it’s important to learn these older hymns, and to teach them to our children, so that when we go through the fire, we will know why to praise God. So that we will grasp the great, living hope that God has given us.
- Our Hope is a Joyful Hope – v6-9
We have joy in hope – v6a
By “all this” I think Peter means everything he’s talked about in v3-5: God’s mercy, the new birth, Jesus resurrection, the last time, (which means the day when Jesus returns), our imperishable inheritance. All these things are bound up together, and they are our hope. And they bring us great joy and happiness. Thinking about and meditating on the glorious future that God has in store for us should be a source of great joy for Christians. And if joy is lacking in our Christian life, as it I sometimes in mine, can I suggest that we need to think about the future a bit more, and not bury ourselves in the present? But don’t mistake this joy as a form of escapism- it can exist alongside great sorrow and pain.
We have joy in the middle of sadness – v6-7
What will life be like for Christians here and now? It will involve great sadness and grief. Peter says “you rejoice although you are now grieved” or “made sad”. So when we talk about the joy that Christians enjoy, we are not talking about bouncing through life with a silly grin on your face, ignoring the bad things that happen. We are not even talking about being sad sometimes and happy at other times. Peter says that the two are there together- the joy is there in the middle of the sadness. If you are a Christian, it’s OK to be sad- you don’t have to pretend that you aren’t.
What makes us sad? Peter says that we have to go through “various kinds of trials”. This could any of the many, many different sorts of suffering and trouble and hardship that we might go through in this world. From very personal and individual sufferings like serious illness or a divorce or clinical depression, through to the terrible trial that our brothers in Northern Nigeria are going through at the moment, where in the last few months hundreds of Christians in Plateau State have been killed by Muslim fighters. Later in the letter, Peter says that a “fiery trial” would come upon his readers, (4:12), so they may have been about to face something like that. But Peter adds, this sadness and suffering is only going to be for a short time- just 60 or 70 years for each of us, maybe only 2000 or 3000 years for the church- compared to the billions upon billions of years in eternity we will have to enjoy our inheritance. And, Peter says, these trials are necessary- they have to happen. Now why would a God of love make us go through these things?
Well, imagine gold. When gold ore is dug out of the ground it’s mixed with rock and other minerals, so it has to be refined and purified. First it is crushed. Then it is heated to 1000oC, and melted, to remove the impurities, and produce pure gold. So Peter says, when we go through trials that’s what God is doing to our faith. Fire is painful- if you burn yourself it hurts. So these trials will be very, very painful for us. But they will burn out the impurities of sin, and prove to everyone that our faith is genuine, and far more precious than gold. That’s what will happen when persecution begins here in the west, as it will. We will find out who really believed, and who was just playing at being a Christian.
And look at the result- “praise, glory, and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed”. Let that sink in. When Jesus returns, if we have been through the fire of suffering and trial, he will praise us, when he sees the beauty and preciousness of our tested, proven faith. We will hear him say “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master”. I’ve had quite a hard time in ministry in the last few weeks, and this is what keeps me going and motivates me- the thought that one day he will be proud of me and praise me for being faithful and keeping going. That’s our reward.
We have joy in Christ – v8
In v6 Peter says “you rejoice in all these things” then in v8 he says “you rejoice in him”. If you do the maths, I think you can finally see what our inheritance is: Christ himself! Rejoicing in all those things- mercy, and new birth, and resurrection, and inheritance- is rejoicing in Christ. He’s the one that makes it all so precious and valuable, he is our inheritance, we get him, we get his own joy. So Peter says, you don’t see him now, Jesus is physically absent, but you do love him and believe in him. Notice he doesn’t say “you should love him” but assumes that if you are a real Christian you do love him.
Before Gunilla and I were married, when we were engaged, we lived in different countries, so we couldn’t see each other, (there was no Skype then). It was a huge joy to get a letter from the one I loved. But an even greater source of joy was the thought of the wedding day when we would finally be together. Something like that is the experience of all Christians. Let me ask you: do you love Jesus? I know it’s very embarrassing to talk like that, very un-British. But do you love him? Does the thought of that day when he will be revealed, when we will see him, fill you with inexpressible and glorious joy?
- Our Hope is a Revealed Hope – v10-12
How do we know about this joyful, living hope?
That’s quite an important question, because there are many different way in which we could find hope. Hope might be the result of evidence, it might be the result of rational calculation. We might look at our circumstances, then look at the resources we have, and say “Yes- I can make it through this, I can see a bright future ahead”. But if we are really suffering, if we are really going through a fiery trial, and we can’t see any way out, that probably won’t work- we will despair. Or our hope could be based on what we feel, an emotional experience, or maybe we are just the sort of person who sees bottles as half full. But what if we go through a trial where we feel dry and barren, and all hopeful feelings are taken away from us?
Peter’s answer is that we are not detectives searching for hope. We can’t find this hope through searching and investigation. Instead, this hope comes by revelation, God reveals it to us. That just means that God has told us about. We would never have worked it out for ourselves, nature gives no hint of it. Instead, God told us. But in God’s mercy, he didn’t do that all at once. He knew that it would be too much to load upon people all at one go. Instead he revealed his hope progressively, a bit at a time. Look at Peter’s explanation.
God revealed some of it to the prophets – v10-11
The “Prophets” here are the men who wrote the Old Testament- Moses, and David, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah and so on. They knew a lot: they knew that God was going to send a Messiah, a saviour King to save his people. They knew that the Messiah would after suffer, but that great glory would follow for him. How did they know all that? Because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ was in them, declaring these things to be true. They weren’t particularly clever, or spiritually enlightened people. They weren’t declaring their own ideas or speculations. They were just pens in the Spirit’s hand, and they wrote what he wanted them to write. But there was a lot they didn’t know as well. They didn’t know who exactly the Messiah would be. They didn’t when he would come. They longed to know it, and they searched and investigated, trying to find out, but they couldn’t because God hadn’t told them- they were completely dependant on his revelation. But they did write the Old Testament. That’s an important reminder that the whole Bible is one book, from one God, inspired by the same Holy Spirit, which tells one story. And that the Old Testament points forward to Christ, and is incomplete without him. V12 says that the Prophets knew that they were writing for our benefit: that we would be the ones who would finally see and understand what they were writing about.
God revealed almost all of it to us – v12
I say “almost” because God hasn’t quite revealed everything, he hasn’t told us when Christ will return. But apart from that, we can see the full, big picture, the glorious hope that God has displayed in all its grandeur and majesty and beauty. But only because it has been revealed to us. We would never ever have worked this out for ourselves, with our tiny, sin-clouded minds. Someone had to tell us- as Peter says it was revealed “by those who announced the Gospel, the good news to you”. For the first readers, that was the Apostles of Jesus, the specially authorized group of men who had seen Jesus. For us, it is someone in the long chain of preachers who have handed on the good news. But even the Apostles didn’t declare their own ideas. They too, Peter writes depended on the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that inspired the Old Testament inspired the New Testament: they are one book, with one message, all about Jesus Christ.
And don’t miss that lovely bit at the end of v12: “Even angels desire to look into these things”. The translation disguises a delightful picture. It’s of the angels peering over the battlements of heaven, eagerly looking down at the earth, and saying: “What’s going on? What’s God doing? How does the story finish?” You know, sometimes, when we go through suffering and trial, we feel sorry for ourselves. Yet we have a greater privilege than the Old Testament prophets and the angels. We may feel insignificant and unimportant- but we are actually at the centre of God’s purpose, we live in the time when all his plans are coming true. We know more, we have a greater and clearer hope, than the Prophets of the Old Testament. We make angels envious. There is really no need to wallow in self-pity.
We are a holy people in a hostile world. But we are also a privileged people with a great and glorious hope. So Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.